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Cuban Dissident Farinas Wins Europe's Sakharov Rights Prize

Cuban opposition activist Guillermo Farinas (right) stands with the help of a doctor at his home in Santa Clara, Cuba, in March.
The European Parliament has awarded the 2010 Sakharov prize for freedom of thought to the long-time Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas.

The award was announced by the parliament President Jerzy Buzek in Strasbourg.

"Guillermo Farinas is an independent journalist and political dissident. He was ready to sacrifice and risk his own health and life as a means of pressure to achieve change in Cuba," Buzek said. "He used hunger strikes to protest and to challenge the lack of freedom of speech in Cuba, carrying the hopes for all of those who care for freedom, human rights, and democracy."

An accompanying statement said Farinas has spent 11 1/2 years in prison and conducted 23 hunger strikes over the years to protest against the Cuban regime, censorship, and human rights violations.

In July, he ended a four-month hunger strike to demand the release of imprisoned opposition activists in poor health. Doctors said he had been near to death. His action is seen as instrumental in gaining the release of 52 of the activists.

A supporter of nonviolence, Farinas is "a beacon of hope for dozens of journalists and activists who are currently in prison," according to the European Parliament members who nominated him.

Farinas was awarded the Reporters Without Borders Cyber-Freedom Prize in 2006.

Ethiopian opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa and an Israeli rights group called Breaking The Silence had also been on the shortlist for this year's Sakharov award.

Farinas is the third Cuban to receive the prestigious prize, after Oswaldo Paya in 2002 and the Ladies In White group of women whose husbands are jailed in Cuba, which received the award in 2005.

Cuba's communist government has not allowed the Ladies in White to travel to Strasbourg to pick up their prize. Buzek expressed hope that Farinas, as well as the Ladies In White, will soon be able to collect the Sakharov prize in person.

The Sakharov Prize, named after late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, comes with a cash award of $70,000.

compiled from agency reports